Tennis-Osaka exhorts girls to embrace being 'different'

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FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Tennis: French Open
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By Frank Pingue

(Reuters) - Japan's Naomi Osaka, a self-confessed introvert who withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon on mental health grounds, has encouraged girls around the world to embrace what make them different.

Osaka, 23, one of Japan's best gold medal prospects at the Tokyo Olympics, used her spot in the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) "Stronger Together" campaign to say the definition of an Olympian is broader than sometimes thought.

"People might think I'm quiet. Different. That I don't fit the box of what an Olympian should be," Osaka says at the start of the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rj58sgmvulw released on Thursday. "But I'm proof that the definition is bigger than people think."

The minute-long vignette begins with an overhead shot of Osaka about to serve on a tennis court before jumping to footage of her dancing in Tokyo's central Shibuya district and laughing in front of a mirror with her sister.

The video, which also shows Osaka signing a TV lens after a win and at a tournament representing Japan, depicts girls of all ages playing softball, rugby, tennis, soccer and fencing, plus breakdancing.

"I want to inspire the girls out there watching right now. The ones that some people think are too different. Too quiet. Too something," said Osaka, who has opened up on her anxiety facing media interviews after intense matches.

"And if we don't fit that expectation of what people think we're supposed to be, good. That just means we're the ones who get to change it."

Osaka's video is the third of five athlete narratives in the IOC's digital campaign ahead of the July 23.-Aug. 8 Tokyo Games. It follows ones by retired world-record sprinter Usain Bolt and skateboarding great Tony Hawk.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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